Pew Charitable Trusts: Grants for Conservation

OVERVIEW: Pew is the consolidation of seven funds, currently reaching more than $5 billion in total assets. Now a public charity, Pew conducts a massive amount of its own program work, and while it’s probably better known for its oceans work, land conservation remains a big focus. Pew is no longer a grantmaking foundation, and has no official environmental grantmaking program, but still ends up giving large amounts to partners in conservation causes. 

IP TAKE: Pew stopped operating as a foundation in 2002, and does not accept applications for environment grants. But the organization does still give large amounts to groups it works with, including some big matching grant programs.

PROFILE: The work of Pew Charitable Trusts is hard to put in a nutshell. Most everyone has heard of Pew or some project it’s undertaken, or--at the very least--the public opinion polling that bears its name. The organization has a trust of more than $5 billion, runs more than 40 active projects, about 1,000 staff, plus an entire research arm, all of which is complicated by the fact that since 2002, it is no longer a foundation, and is now a public charity primarily running its own programs. It does not have an environmental grantmaking program and does not accept applications, but still ends up giving out quite a bit of money to other groups. So what exactly is it?

To get a grasp on it, it's best to back up to its origins, as it emerged from seven charitable funds established from 1948 to 1979 by family of the founder of the Sun Oil Company. Interests were all over the place, but the original donors were generally conservative, and early priorities included cancer research and the Red Cross. 

In 2002, the Philadelphia-based foundation(s) changed legal status, becoming a public charity, in part so that it could engage in lobbying activity, although that’s still limited by law. Not long after, it established the nonprofit Pew Research Center, which conducts social science work and polling. Today, the Pew Charitable Trusts pursues goals to protect the environment, encourage responsive government, support scientific research, and improve civic life. 

With the 2002 shift, the funder also gravitated more toward an emphasis on its own program work, hence the 1,000 employees of its own. The environment arm has 275 staff and consultants working in four continents and 15 countries. Pew works in three main areas when it comes to the environment — oceans, land conservation, and energy. Marine work is definitely the biggest of the priorities, and the organization runs one of the largest oceans advocacy programs in the world. Read more about Pew’s marine work here: Pew Charitable Trusts: Grants for Marine and Rivers.

When it comes to land conservation, Pew works in the United States, Canada and Australia, citing the fact that these three countries contain more than 30 percent of the world’s remaining old-growth forests and unspoiled wilderness. And while it’s not quite as expansive as the marine work, there are still four land conservation projects: 

  • America’s Wilderness - This program focuses on finding lasting protection for wild lands owned by the federal government and working to establish public lands protections. A key tactic here is working with local advocates and coalitions to support such campaigns, whether by offering their own advocates or other support. 
  • International Boreal Conservation Campaign - This is Pew’s Canadian program, and the organization has worked extensively to protect more than 350 million acres the forest. 
  • Outback Australia - This program is actually a mix of land and marine work. The trusts work with conservation groups, industry, and Aboriginal organizations to improve protection and management practices.
  • America’s Western Lands - The West gets its own program, and the focus is on the massive amount of BLM and protecting the ecosystems threatened by development and off-road vehicle use. 

Given the fact that Pew doesn’t have an official grantmaking program, and you’ll find no guidelines on its website, why are we talking about it? Well, it still actually gives quite a lot of funding to other organizations. 

Pew communications staff emphasized that their environmental work is currently conducted in house by its own program staff, and it does not accept grant proposals. But its filings do show significant funds going to dozens of other environmental groups, and it often works in partnership with other organizations and sometimes financially supports those efforts.

One example is a program that Pew has been involved in since 2006, called the Northeast Land Trust Consortium. Through this program, Pew works with land trusts in northeastern states to raise money for preservation by matching funds. That program has paid off a great deal for participating groups, including the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which received about $8 million in FY2013 as part of the consortium. The program wraps up in 2015.

Here are some other notable grantees from recent years:


  • Montana Wilderness Association
  • Earthjustice
  • Other state groups such as the California Wilderness Coalition, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Nevada Wilderness Project, and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and the Oregon Natural Desert Association


So again, while Pew doesn’t operate as a foundation anymore, and doesn’t accept proposals, it nonetheless is a huge player in conservation in North America, and much of that translates into financial support for partners in the local areas where it operates.  


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